His world changed in a blink of an eye.
A sharp flash crept through the dark. Ishram squeezed his eyes, moving away from the source of light. He had more important things to do, yet his attention was demanded elsewhere. He tugged his hands but they were locked into place. He remembered holding his spear, still heavy in his hands; he had to find Amar, had to-
A voice interrupted his thoughts.
“Who are you?”
Ishram opened his eyes.
His whole body was darkness; thick, black strands held him suspended in place. His spear nowhere to be seen.
His heart skipped a beat.
The young voice spoke again, raspy and choked. “Where am I? Where are those other- those other things?” Ishram groaned when a dull ache spread through his body, tugged at his chains once more. “God damn it, say something!” The voice was high and weary, breathless.
Ishram inhaled slowly. He couldn’t do this. Not again. He couldn’t-
The boy sobbed. Ishram’s back arched underneath the darkness’ pressure.
Ishram sighed. “Son of Death,” he started. The words flowed out of his mouth as water. He knew them more than by heart by now, “only the desperate find this place.” His voice echoed in the emptiness. “I can relieve you from such burden, albeit for a price.”
The boy let out a pitiful noise. “What? What are you on about? Who are you?”
Ishram didn’t recognise any of the clothing the boy was wearing. The more he looked, the more it was clear much time had passed. It was a strange feeling he would never completely accustomed to. Dread hung over him like a Sword of Damocles.
“Are you in need or not, human?” Ishram’s voice grew stronger, bringing the boy to silence.
Another sob. “Y-yeah? Why- what do you mean? My friend- he’s- we were being chased. Where are we? Please, please, I- I need to call the police, or something-”
Ishram hissed. His abdomen hurt, but he couldn’t move, and the darkness wouldn’t let him go until a compromise was reached. “That would be why you are here. Will you accept my protection?” Ishram grimaced. It wasn’t rare for someone to refuse his help, prefer death over the unknown, so there was still hope.
“How? You’re- you’re a floating torso!” The boy threw his hands at Ishram, eyes and mouth wide open. “Am I dead? What is this? Oh, my god, I’m dead ain’t I? Fuck, fuck-” the human turned and wandered, looking around himself. Ishram quietly waited as the boy realised he wasn’t moving away, no matter how hard he kicked the ground, the darkness kept him there. He ran, although he stayed in the same spot. Ishram waited as frustration raised through the boy’s already tense shoulders.
Bitterness bit at his insides. “You are not dead. But don’t worry, you will be shortly, if only you leave me be.”
He regretted it the second he closed his mouth. The pressure on his spine grew stronger and he inhaled sharply, suppressing a pained groan, until all he could do was hold his breath and curse under it.
The boy stopped and looked back at him. “Thanks, bro. That’s definitely helping.” He snapped, thin eyes and twisted mouth.
Ishram coughed and gasped for air when the pressure wore off. He couldn’t feel anything except for his spine. Anything else was non-existent, or just as numb as his mind felt. It happened when too much time had passed—the notion didn’t lighten his mood.
The human cursed again. “If I’m gonna be dead anyway, can you at least tell me what’s going on? Who are you?”
Ishram sighed. “My name is Ishram and you’re currently in my cage. Whether you get out of it with or without me, is why you are still here.”
“And where’s my friend?”
Ishram blinked, a blank expression on his face. “Wherever you and your friend were, I believe.” His voice was flat. How would he even know where anyone was anywhere right now?
“You think you’re funny?” No, not really, Ishram thought. “Why isn’t he with me?”
Silence. This was stupid and ridiculous and was going nowhere Ishram wanted it to be. Just say no and fuck off. “Back. Where. You. Were.”
The human stared at him, his face was a blank page which then twisted in anxiety. “He’s alone? With- with those monsters?”
“Exactly. Now, if you were so kind to refus-” pain shot through his spine as the darkness pulled it, twisted and crushed. Ishram growled, his limbs tensing, but still not moving.
“What was that?”
Ishram snarled and bared his teeth. “Just answer the question and begone, human. Do you accept my protection?” His voice was tainted with pain and frustration.
The boy kept looking at him. It was almost like talking to a cub. Ignorant, impulsive, hotheaded. Then, he hissed, fists closed. “Alright, yes. Fuck you, yes.”
Ishram fell silent. He didn’t want this. He didn’t want this now. He also knew he didn’t have a choice in this. Coming back only meant one thing, and he wasn’t ready to accept it.
When have you ever been ready to accept anything?, a mocking voice questioned in the back of his mind.
Unfortunately, it didn’t matter. His voice wasn’t his own to control, his body wasn’t his own to move, and his will wasn’t his own to question. It was the seal that spoke for itself through Ishram’s voice. “A life for a life, Son of Death. May the world live to see another day.”
“Wait- what?” was all the boy could say, before the darkness swallowed them whole.
All it took was the blink of an eye, and Ishram was standing... somewhere. Somewhere he didn’t know. The first thing he felt was the ground - cold and wet earth beneath his feet. Then the water, tickling all around him, bringing his sense to focus on unnecessary directions. He felt cold, but that was not an issue. His body and mind took time to re-align, as he walked the first step, stood up on his legs for the first time again.
Only to fall on his knees.
His stomach hurt. It stung. As soon as Ishram brought his eyes down on his abdomen, warm blood was pouring outside his wound. It was still there, of course, together with the poison. It ran deep inside him as had the knife which they had pierced him with. At least he didn’t have to remove it, as the cage did it for him when he’d simply disappeared.
“Shit,” he hissed as pain spread through his body and blurred his vision.
He stood again, the seal throbbing against his spine. He had to move, he had to check on the human. It didn’t take long before the throbbing became pressure again.
A scream, and he knew where to go.
His own pain guided him, forced him to move and run. Another scream and he jumped down a small cliff. It was night, but he could still see thanks to the moonlight.
Two men holding one boy each turned towards him as soon as he landed on the ground. Ishram bared his teeth, his own mind slip away as the blood ran together with another wave of white pain. He staggered, but found his balance again.
Silence fell on the place as everyone realised Ishram’s presence. The men wore coats and hoods, a black one and a military green one. They both jumped at Ishram sight, only to drag the boys far away from each other.
The boy on Ishram left was crying. “Help!” He choked, before his handler tightened the grip.
Blonde locks and pale skin; this one wasn’t the one he had an agreement with. So he turned, checked the one on his right, and there he was. Curly and messy hair, dark skin and deep black eyes, he was breathing unevenly and holding tight to Green Hood’s forearm.
“What are you waiting for? Call the others!” Black Hood spat in Armenian.
But Ishram was already moving. He threw himself against Green Hood, digging his nails into his forearm and forcing him to release his prey. Growls mixed together as they both bared their teeth. Ishram drew out fresh blood.
“Get out,” Ishram ordered to the boy.
The boy stammered in shock, but moved as soon as he understood he was free. At least he had good instincts.
Ishram followed with his gaze, pushing Green Hood so he couldn’t give chase. He planted himself between the boy and Green Hood, claws ready and growl rising from his throat. Once the boy was away from them, Ishram gave his undivided attention to Green Hood. It wasn’t surprising at all, to see vertical pupils waiting for him. He was kin.
Ishram’s voice cleaved as he spoke. “This is your fault.”
Then, he lunged towards Green Hood and shoved. Green Hood lost his balance, and Ishram could hit him again. He aimed at his solar plexus, stole his breath and left him coughing. Another hit and the man turned to maintain his poor balance. Ishram moved, wrapped his arm against the man’s throat and pulled.
Green Hood choked as he tried to loosen Ishram grip, claws digging into Ishram’s forearm and drawing out blood. Ishram was about to snap his neck when the man hit him with his elbow right on his side. Pain blinded him for a second, and then it made all sharper. Another hit and Ishram roared.
He snapped the man’s neck with rage and let the body fall on the ground. His own breathing was harsh and uneven when he turned to stare at Black Hood. His own consciousness was slipping away, he had small time and needed nourishment.
Black Hood was standing there, holding the human boy and shouting at the other one. “I’ll kill him! Tell him to stand down or your friend is dead!”
Ishram vision blurred out once again, his abdomen hurt and stung and he was hungry. His eyes fixed, the sweet and metallic smell drawing him like a moth towards the flames. It dragged him, his own body and mind. His mind distant and chanting with it. Black Hood’s threats stopped making sense in any language they were spoken.
Until Ishram could only hear growling. It took him too long to realise it was his own, suffocating the screams. Bones cracked under his hits, animal noises and fear, he could smell it all around himself. It thrilled something dark and twisted inside of him, something that would make him puke his guts out if he were present enough to know.
He came back to empty eyes staring back at him, dirty locks and split skin, head tilted and body dislodged in an unnatural way. Ishram’s mind wasn’t as precise as he’d expected it to be. He could only remember thinking, get away, hunt, but nothing gave him reason to do so. He was in a forest, it would’ve been so easy to hunt for food without being bothered.
Yet he had his prey. He had it right there under his eyes and it smelled still fresh and warm. Welcoming.
He remembered running and catching it, it was his, the shout of a stop!, and then nothing. Just pure relief. His fangs dug into hot and steamy luxury, it was butter and it tasted like the heavens. Something cracked, splintered and stuck between his fangs, but he kept on and on and on. Until the hurt in his stomach stopped and he could sigh in relief again.
He slipped back to consciousness when it was too late. His mouth warm again, wet with thick blood and flesh. He’d snapped its neck, so it wouldn’t feel pain. His fangs cut through the meat with ease as he fed, and drank, and tore.
A flash of pain spread from the back of his head paralysing him. It was a moment, but it took less than that to radiate down to his arms. His vision came back for just a second, and Ishram could see the dark green in front of him and pitch black at its edges. Something warm, something wet, something good.
Another hit and his vision went black. Only a sound escaped him as he came crashing down on the hard, cold ground.
A sharp throb woke Ishram up. Rain still poured over him. He opened his eyes and found the night sky above him, framed by dark branches and fat leaves. He was still naked, and cold, and wet. When he tried to move, the pain would become drilling, before returning to a dull ache. His head throbbed with it.
Ishram was tempted to slip back into unconsciousness - tired, worn out. His stomach still hurt, his body was heavy, and his limbs moved only with a ridiculous amount of will. He could close his eyes, go back to sleep, wait it out, but his mind wasn’t about to let him have any of it.
It came back like a wave, struck him and brought him back sitting up.
The human. Where was he?
Ishram groaned, ignored the heavy tiredness trying to pin him on the ground. He was alone. Alone and still alive. Black Hood and Green Hood were just a few feet away from him, right where he left them, their bodies unmoving, faces twisted in shock right before death caught up to them.
He stumbled forward and almost tripped over when his foot refused to move. Ishram cursed and moved again, only to catch something with his other foot. A limb- no, a body. A tight knot closed in on his throat as blond locks met his gaze, stained with blood, framing worried eyes and a silent scream.
The other human.
His torso was completely exposed, cut in half. Ishram didn’t want to recognise his own doing, but all it took was look at his own hands and inhale. The human’s smell was on him. On his mouth. On his arms, bloody and sticky. Ishram raised them in front of himself, stared at the water as it washed away some of the blood.
Ishram’s fists clenched as he looked around once more. He brushed his face with his forearm, removed as much blood as he could. It took him time, but eventually he could distinguish between the different smells of the forest, and go back to the disgusting feeling that settled in his guts.
He hated how full he felt, but there was no turning back now.
He sniffed around until a faint scent of his own blood found his nose. So Ishram followed. His strengths were gradually coming back to him. He felt better, his belly wasn’t hurting as much as it did before. It would’ve been a matter of a few hours, before his wounds healed completely.
When he stood up, something wet and warm slithered down his neck. He brought his hands to it. He found more blood. Not far ahead, a rock as big as his head lay bloody and abandoned. It wasn’t difficult to know what had happened.
The forest was full of noises all around him as the wind blew through them, bringing new distractions. “Where did you go?” Ishram mumbled to himself.
Further ahead, the woods slowly lessened, opening up to a black and shiny road. Now Ishram could see lights, yellowish and warm, outlining cement and white lines. Then, a choking and mechanic sound.
Ishram followed it as it gave up and went quiet again. He kept behind some of the trees, moved from one to another, until the mechanic sound was back again, roaring and panting.
A car on the side of the road. It was different from the ones Ishram remembered. Slimmer, smaller, quieter. One of the back headlights was busted, completely shattered, while the others lit up as the car struggled once again.
The boy’s voice was painfully frustrated, the driver window open. Ishram decided to come out, dropped down on the road and looked around. No one seemed to be around as he approached the car. The boy was still too busy trying to get the engine to start, Ishram could only see his curls from the rear-view mirror.
“What are you doing?” Ishram asked.
The boy turned and Ishram saw fear in his wide eyes. At the same time, the engine roared and settled, startling Ishram. If Ishram had any doubts on what had happened, it was clear when the boy hit the gas.
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